On 24 March, C4 Chairman Anthony Mills presented at the Global Forest Summit in Brussels on his efforts to catalyse the restoration of 1.2 million hectares of desertified land in the Eastern Cape Province using the plant Portulacaria afra, commonly known as spekboom.
Launched in 2021, the Global Forest Summit is a civil-society led initiative designed to gain momentum in achieving the UN Global Forest Goals. The multi-stakeholder platform encourages participation from all game-changing actors to ensure bold ambitions for forests and fast delivery of pledges using a wide-encompassing approach, ranging from forest protection to restoration and sustainable management, among others.
Mills presented alongside influential speakers, including Dr. Jane Goodall, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, and HRH Charles, the Prince of Whales.
‘Prince Charles’s Circular Bioeconomy Alliance is a critical initiative for catalysing economically sustainable restoration at scale,’ Mills said when reflecting on his experience. ‘A large spekboom restoration project will hopefully become one of the Living Labs in this alliance.’
During his presentation (see 10.14 on the YouTube link supplied below), Mills discussed his plans to restore degraded thicket in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, which will achieve a myriad of benefits by sequestering atmospheric CO2, reducing soil erosion, enhancing biodiversity and creating employment opportunities in the area.
Spekboom is an incredibly resilient species, exquisitely adapted to dry climates, intense heat, mega-herbivores (like elephant and black rhino) and a swathe of antelope species. Unfortunately, the succulent plant does have an Achilles heel.
‘Unless you manage the mohair-producing Angora goats in an extremely effective manner, they will eat [the spekboom], stems and all… converting beautiful, dense forest into a dry and stony desert,’ Mill explained during his presentation.
Fortunately, there is a simple and effective way of rolling back the desert using spekboom, which can be grown from cuttings planted in the soil. Planting these cuttings at large scale — over tens or even hundreds of thousands of hectares — in a goat-degraded thicket can rebuild carbon-rich topsoil without compromising the mohair industry.
While 1.2 million hectares of forest restoration may be a considerable amount of land when viewed from a South African lens, it is still a ‘drop in the ocean’ of what needs to be achieved globally. Stéphane Hallaire, President and CEO of Reforest’Action, discussed plans to upscale initiatives like Mills’ by embedding similar projects into a bigger network, linking project holders and facilitating knowledge sharing between more than 1000 projects in over 140 countries around the world.
‘Anthony has a deep knowledge of how to implement and scale a project; 1.2 million hectares is huge,’ said Hallaire. ‘A number of project holders in Kenya, in Columbia and so on, would learn from Anthony. We can also embed Anthony’s project into the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, which promotes bioeconomy: an economy based on biodiversity.’
Mills was also asked to take part in a panel discussion (see from 9.03) in which a wide range of topics on how to scale restoration globally was discussed.
You can view the Global Forest Summit by clicking the YouTube link supplied below.